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Energizing Major Gifts

For the past two years, Donor by Design Group has been working with a cohort of nonprofit leaders from across the country on strategies for improving annual giving. While there are many learnings to be shared, I think the most interesting may be what we’ve learned in developing major gift relationships.

The cause of our work starts with the community, not with the organization.

When we describe the impact of programs, we have to talk in terms of the problems we are addressing. Donors want to see themselves as problem-solvers. They want to know that you aren’t running programs just to keep your organization afloat. Instead, they want to know WHY it matters to people in need and what difference their support will make.

Leaders must reflect a commitment to the community in which they serve.

Often, major donors are committed first to causes in their local community. They want to know that you are as well. Your job as a leader is to “leverage” your organization’s resources (brand, staff and facility capital, volunteers and/or members) to making the community a better place for all. You must be visible and conversant on issues in other areas of your community and not just within the confines of your mission or programs.

Prospecting should start at home.

We often think we know our existing donors but we haven’t taken the necessary time to really get to know them, both individually and within their family unit. This is a necessary step to understand why they support us currently. Without this investment on our part, we are unlikely to reach a transformational level of giving with them because we will have not connected our mission to what truly matters to them. By beginning with those who have already donated to us, in a curious, information-gathering conversation, we can both express our thanks and build engagement.

Expand the pool of donors.

Things we learn from the existing donor pool should help shape and open doors to new prospects. Take the same questioning and curiosity framework with new relationships as well. As you narrow in on what matters to the potential donor, you can focus your educational and engagement strategies on the issues your organization is addressing within that arena. Make your work come alive to them in the problem-area that touches their passion points through site tours, information on program impact statistics, and more.

Documenting is not just about the system.

We are all guilty of thinking that what we heard in an interview will never be forgotten. We cannot be committed to top-notch personal stewardship if we are not keeping track of details that matter. Most fundraising professionals I know want the organization to retain their donors after they leave, so using your donor management system to keep track of activity is imperative. Even 3 x 5 notecards, paper files, or excel sheets are better than keeping it stored in your own head!

Stewardship is a verb.

While we all must develop and implement plans that include things like event invitations, newsletters, and recognition systems, personal stewardship should be an ongoing, alive, and fun behavior. When top leaders steward from their heart and with their own personality, other staff and volunteers will follow and a true culture of appreciation and team success can follow.

Major gift work is critically important to enabling our organizations to fulfill our missions. Activity = results. By deliberately and continually improving your efforts, you can change the future for your organization and the people you serve.